| All Is Change |
By Lawrence Sutin
Genre: Non Fiction
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It would hardly seem necessary to argue for the need to examine the history of relations between Buddhism and the West with great care. After all, it is a matter of reasonably broad consensus that Buddhism, in its many forms, offers the West remarkable teachings and practices that can be of vital use in the spheres of religion, philosophy, psychology, neurology and related cognitive sciences, and even politics.
How we came to know of Buddhism, the difficulties of that knowing, the means by which we continue to overcome those difficulties- these are the essential subjects of this book. I am indebted-as my notes and bibliography indicate-to the many excellent writers and scholars who have preceded me in these fields. What I have tried to do is to weave together, in a single narrative, an account more equally detailed in all of its parts than has yet appeared.
The majority of prior writings on this subject have been written either by Christians or Buddhists. I am neither. Indeed, I am not a formal, practicing religionist of any sort. I was raised in a secular Jewish family, and I believe in the value of all of the world's great religions-and many of the smaller ones as well. Good people can be found in all religions, and they tend to resemble one another regardless of doctrinal differences. As relations between Christianity and Buddhism, in particular, are frequently alluded to in the text, I can only say, to allay any undue suspicions, that I am "rooting" for neither side, but rather for a world in which multifold religious perspectives are not only tolerated but also deemed essential for human well-being.
There have been many obstacles to the understanding of Buddhism in the West-language, geographical distance, religious and cultural differences, colonial and postcolonial politics. These are all examined herein, and I believe that all of them play an ongoing part in the difficulties that the West is continuing to experience in coming to terms with Buddhism. For all that Buddhism is here among us, its roots are yet shallow, and the development of a fully indigenous Western Buddhism is still a work in progress, to which I hope this book can contribute.
Readers are always astute at discerning for themselves the biases they believe a writer to possess. I accept the modern critique of metahistorians that absolute historical "objectivity" is impossible-that is, all historians create a narrative of their own, based on their own assessments and "emplotment" strategies. I do, however, continue to believe that a historian can and must exercise integrity. Let the reader judge if I have done so.
Just a few comments on language usage. I do not believe in the actual existence of monolithic separate entities that can be designated as "East" and "West." I use those terms because they are necessary shorthands, employed commonly by authors around the world, for certain vast cultural realms that have gradually come into ever greater contact. The term "Buddhism" is a relatively recent Western construct to refer to what had been known for more than two millennia in Asia as the teachings of the Buddha. It is well to remember that the filters of Western understanding of Buddhism are pervasive. I have found no consistent usage pattern, even among Buddhist writers, for "dharma" and "Dharma," and have chosen the latter out of a sense of respect and its parallel function to my use of "Gospel." The term "Sri Lanka" is employed rather than "Ceylon" except when the British colony and its functionaries are under specific discussion.
I have undertaken to provide a broad historical overview, based on the conviction that such an overview is badly needed. Length considerations have made it impossible for all of the developments of the present era- which themselves have been addressed in dozens of recent books-to be examined in the closing chapters. Further, although some background is given for the Buddhist teachings discussed herein, this book should not be regarded as an introduction to Buddhist thought and practice. I am not competent to teach the Dharma, and fortunately many good books with that intent already exist. I have written a history, not a spiritual guide. And history is quite difficult enough.
Excerpted from All Is Change , by Lawrence Sutin . Copyright (c) 2006 by Lawrence Sutin . Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.Back to top